Manchester, Aug 2: A brilliant 187 from captain Michael Clarke underpinned Australia's 527-7 declared on the second day of the third test Friday, leaving England facing a real fight to wrap up a third straight Ashes series at the earliest opportunity.
An entertaining eighth-wicket partnership between Brad Haddin (65) and Mitchell Starc (66) had moved to 97 runs when the pair was called in from the middle by Clarke, 13 minutes after the tea interval.
The total was easily the tourists' biggest of the series, with Steve Smith (89) and Chris Rogers also passing fifty as their batsmen answered their critics following a demoralizing first two tests.
Clarke laid the foundations for Australia's formidable score in its must-win match but missed out on a fifth double hundred of his test career when he chopped a lifting delivery by Stuart Broad onto his stumps soon after lunch. Clarke was given a standing ovation by spectators, with his 314-ball knock—containing 23 fours—surely one of his most important.
Broad's 200th test wicket was soon followed by Graeme Swann's dismissal of Peter Siddle (1) to complete a 17th five-wicket haul for the offspinner, but there was little to celebrate on another tough day for England's bowlers.
Ahead 2-0 in the five-match series and needing only a draw to retain the urn, England was in damage-limitation mode for most of Friday.
Patient on Thursday, Clarke cut loose 24 hours later and played with a swagger that suggested he was back to his aggressive best after a below-par start to the series.
He displayed his full repertoire of strokes that included a measured slog through mid-on and a back-foot drive through point in successive shots off Tim Bresnan, pushing him past his best previous score against England (136, at Lord's in 2009).
With Siddle missing a slog to be bowled by Swann six minutes after Clarke's departure, the message was clear for Australia's batsmen after lunch—play your shots and up the run-rate.
And the Haddin-Starc combination obliged. Starc, in particular, produced a string of graceful shots worthy of his side's specialist batsmen to reach his half-century off 53 balls, with England's defensive, almost ODI field placings giving him plenty of scope.
Earlier, Steve Smith missed out on a maiden century by recklessly giving his wicket away, top-edging a slog-sweep off Swann for Jonny Bairstow to take the catch.
It was a gift for England, ending a 214-run stand with Clarke for the fourth wicket, and Smith knew a golden chance had been wasted, whacking his pads with his bat in annoyance as he walked off. His highest test score remains 92 against India in March.
In came David Warner, who received a hostile welcome by heckling England fans in his first match for Australia since returning from a suspension for punching England's Joe Root in a late-night bar incident during the Champions Trophy in June.
Warner only lasted 10 balls, though, before he departed for 5 in farcical circumstances. He edged Swann onto the left thigh of wicketkeeper Matt Prior, with the ball rearing up to Jonathan Trott at first slip, but bizarrely elected to review the dismissal.
Perhaps the spate of baffling DRS judgments this series—the latest coming on Thursday with Usman Khawaja—gave Warner confidence he could somehow survive. He didn't—and was ridiculed by chants of “Cheerio” from fans as he returned to the pavilion.
It couldn't have been more different to the farewell afforded Clarke.